How far is a Marathon?

Wine, great friends and before the night was over I’d signed up to run the New York Marathon again. Misery liking its company I’d convinced my husband and a friend to sign up too. 

Generally I never do the same experience twice and yet this would be different. The first time, I taught myself, trained solo and ran the race with 45,000 new friends. This time, I’d train with my husband, and eleven Kilimanjaro friends, plus several new friends. Together we would run the race with 50,000 other people on race day.  It would be different. 

When people learn I’m running a marathon the most common question is, “how far is that?”  The simple answer is 42.2km or 26.2 miles.  This answer is incomplete. 

I began training in January. I ran through all four seasons, logging miles and running four days a week. I ran hills, cross trained by biking and walking and participated in total body workouts by attending Orangetheory for the first 6 months of the year. In total, I ran 1200km, the distance from Prince Edward Island to Manhattan. I will complete the final 42.2km on November 1st. 

I trained with the Pulse Generator group, led by Joan when I could and admired how each person transformed into fitter, leaner versions of themselves. I especially enjoyed the weekly run at my home followed by wine and great food, thanks Maxine and Gilles!  The hill training was difficult though fun when shared with the group. I’m thankful for all the words of encouragement. 

I started training early to gain strength and keep up with my speedy husband, John. In a case of be careful what you wish for, I will achieve my goal, though John will not run his best race. Surgery derailed his plans in early summer and while recovered, he is now battling bronchitis. We will run and walk and cross the finish line together, certain to remember that salient point years from now. Our finish time will not matter. We climbed Kilimanjaro together one year ago and I will never forget how John stayed with me that long night while I shuffled up the mountain. How fortunate am I to repay that selfless and loving act. 

I trained for a marathon and along the way I gained fitness, flexibility and strengthened the bonds of friendship. I learned what matters is not the time I finish but who is next to me when I do. NYC here we come!

  

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Stone Town, last look

We have been informed that Stone Town is a great place to purchase Tanzanite, a perfect souvenir to commemorate our Kilimanjaro climb. Tanzanite is a beautiful gemstone. Its colour changes from blue to violet in different light.  It was discovered in Northern Tanzania in 1967 by the city of Arusha and Mount Kilimanjaro.  It was named by Tiffany and Company in 2002 for Tanzania where it originated.

Tanzanite

We wake early to peruse the many shops selling this stone.  In Canada and Hawaii I have seen a few examples of the stone, though here in Stone Town the options are more plentiful, the deep colours more prevalent.  John remarks that they aren’t giving them away and the price is dear.  We are worried about what we are buying as we have been told to purchase from the government where we can be certain of the quality.  It is a gamble and we decide we aren’t Gamblers.

We walk down to the water and see a group of cats waiting patiently.  They are waiting for the Fishermen to bring their breakfast.  Its comical to watch them, their fear of water overriding their hunger.  There are many cats in Stone town roaming the streets.  I suspect they keep the vermin under control and are fed collectively for their efforts by the people of Stone Town as they are not scraggly or thin.  Still, they look more street wise than our pampered cats in Canada.

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We stop at our favourite coffee shop for our final latte.  There are no chain coffee shops here and we are thankful for the reprieve.  This shop is located in a bookstore, adding to its ambience.  We peruse the dusty tomes and over priced bric-a-brac and settle into the comfortable chairs and enjoy a most excellent latte.

Too soon its time to gather our too many bags and haul them down the too many stairs.  We have enjoyed our time in Stone Town a great deal.  We wish we had more time in this magical place.  We cast a look behind, hoping to return this way another day, then set our sights on what comes next.

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Half a world away

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Moved to Tears.

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He was born while we were half a world away. We were sitting on the steps of the hotel in Moshi,Tanzania waiting for our certificates to prove we climbed Kilimanjaro and refusing to board the bus to begin our safari until we had the signed certificates.

I sat with my phone clutched reading text messages from our daughter describing her contractions and shouting out the information to our Kilimanjaro friends and responding back to her that we were all excited and wishing her well. The labor progressing our chief worry was whether we would need to board the bus before the birth. If this baby did not hurry up, we would have to wait another week.

I wait for her response, nothing. I text again asking if she’s okay, nothing. Then a text arrives, “its a boy!” I shout, our group cheers.  I wait for the photo to follow.  I wait an eternity and then it arrives.  The photo moves me to tears.  I stare into the face of our newest grandson and weep, tears of joy that the ordeal is over for our daughter, that the baby has arrived safe, that he is perfect in every way.  My husband shares the photo and openly weeps, his tears contagious.  A joyous moment forever etched in our memory.

Walking with the Ranger

We pack our camp and prepare for our walk with the Ranger and our drive to our final park, Tarangire.

The Ranger greets us and leads us along the top of Ngorongoro crater where we have an aerial view of the caldera. He smiles but is a man of no words intent on his task of leading our group. John tells me later that the gun he carried would not have been effective against predators. Good thing we only saw four donkeys!  Good thing John kept this knowledge to himself.

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Kilimanjaro fallout continues to pester as I have no feeling in several toes and each step I’m reminded how much I’ve come to rely on all ten. I wonder if the feeling will ever return, or if this is my new normal?

We arrive back at the Safari vehicle, say goodbye to the Ranger and begin our vehicle climb out of Ngorongoro. It is beautiful, lush and green; a sharp contrast to the dust bowl of the caldera.

We see young Maasai men with their faces painted and heads shaved. Stephen tells us that they have just been circumcised. He further advises that during the surgery the boy receives no medicine and must not move a muscle or cry as this would bring shame to his family. He must be a warrior.  Girls are also circumcised and they are allowed to cry though they must not kick at the knife. It is a harsh coming of age.

We meet up with the Lodge group at our lunch break. It’s always a treat to stop at places where we can shop and have the potential for cold ginger pop or even a cup of brewed coffee. The retail shops and restaurants are set up for Safari folks with their inflated prices and costly brik a brak. We buy only a few trinkets as the shopkeepers are not interested in haggling. A few minutes up the road, Stephen stops to purchase cigarettes for John. He leaves us and instantly the vehicle is surrounded. We are offered sale day pricing for nearly identical merchandise and we happily purchase.  In seconds the word is out and layers of people converge asking, then begging us to buy. The prices drop, we are tempted and buy again, a thick glut surrounds our vehicle and our senses are in overload. Stephen returns and shoos everyone away and we are off.

We continue our journey to Tarangire. We are close as we see a sign with a picture of lions in trees. Stephen tells us we may see this at Lake Manyara, the only place where lions climb trees.  It is believed the they have adapted to get away from the tse tse flies, though this is only one thought. A few moments later we see a small pride of lions in a tree. We watch for some time as the cub tries to find a comfortable position. I wonder if the fire department would attempt a rescue?

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We arrive at our campsite, our last home for the final two nights of our Safari. Our site is next to a dry river bed and the centre is a large baobab tree. It is pretty and somewhat shaded but the neighbours are less than desirable as we step out of the vehicle and begin swatting tse tse flies and bees.

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Our water for washing is thick with bees. This is the end of the dry season and the bees are thirsty. I quickly wash and then throw away the water attempting to redirect the bees from the door to our tent.  We swat constantly and shortly it becomes exhausting. I think if I lived here, I would adapt and wonder if the lions are on to something?  We retreat to the swat free zone of our tent and read before dinner. The situation improves dramatically as night falls and the pests sleep.

I lay awake concerned as our campsite is exposed and we are in the tent farthest from the Guides. I’m in the farther cot and only the canvas separates me from the many predators.  It is at moments like this I wish for the safety of a proper structure. John sleeps well, perhaps he doesn’t want to feel it coming?  I remain alert for both of us until I succumb to sleep and dreams.

Pssst, hey you

Hey you, yes you.  I know that you are tired after working all day and are looking for peace after your day of calamity.  You are searching for balance and are needing an escape.  You don’t have much time. There never seems to be enough time.  News bombards and demands attention as another sad event unfolds.

Your energy stores are depleted and need a boost. You search for the positive, everywhere, anywhere to restore equilibrium. A vacation is exactly what is needed, but there is no time, no money and no way that you could go anywhere.

What if you could go to an exotic locale, feast your eyes on amazing photographs, and exist in that place for a short time?  Imagine yourself on Safari, climbing to the top of Kilimanjaro or mushing a dogsled.  Leap into the stories with me, hang on to the edge of your seat as you experience all this wonderful world has to offer.

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Painting with Snow
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Painting with leaves

Day Two Kilimanjaro

Altitude is a factor today, hiking a little more difficult. Polepole (Swahili for slowly) makes sense today and is so important it’s said every time we are passed by a Porter . I’m grateful for the slower pace as we trudge up the mountain single file. We can see the mountain daily and still it seems surreal.

The Porters pass us carrying our camp on their heads and backs. Greetings of Jambo! (Swahili for Hello) begin our morning as they dart past us, hurrying to get to our next camp.

Later, I see the Porters in the far distance and try to only look at the ground as they are so far away. Looking up only serves to remind me of how far we need to hike and I grow weary with the knowledge.

We stop for breaks, getting started again is difficult, but the break from the backpack is heaven even for a short time.

We arrive at Campsite two and our camp is already set up by the Porters who rushed ahead. The Porters are at the stream filling containers with water for drinking and washing. Soon popcorn and tea are served and we munch and savour this treat that would scarcely pique our interest at home.

We dine on a lunch of chicken, fries and vegetables. My appetite is huge and I wonder how many extra pounds I will carry up the mountain. I hesitate for a moment, then fill my plate with a second helping.

Later we climb to a higher altitude to acclimatize. Once we arrive at the higher destination , we scramble happily to higher points of land to take photos, check out the view, or simply because we can. We return to camp to await our dinner. We are eating constantly yet I’m hungry again.

Dinner always begins with soup. We are told tonight’s soup is carrot and ginger, so tasty. Meat stew and potatoes round out the meal. It’s simple fare but very appetizing. We sip on tea, instant coffee or Milo after dinner and chat. After dinner we prepare for bed and retire to our respective tents. It’s cold and dark at night, there is no campfire and thus no reason to linger

We crawl into our sleeping bags and try to find comfort. I can hear the Porter and Guides. It always seems as though they are yelling at one another but know it’s just the language. My bladder demands attention due to a side effect of Diamox, which is taken to combat altitude sickness. I’m cold in my bag and I keep adding layers. I awake in pain, and shift to find a more comfortable position and ensure I’m laying on the mat that separates my body from the mountain”s rocky surface. As a result, sleep is disjointed and seemingly in moments, morning arrives and I wonder if I’ve slept at all?

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Climbing Kilimanjaro

Such excitement in the parking lot of the Parkview hotel as we wait to begin our journey to the Nalemuru gate and the start of the Rongai route
We take pictures of each other and of the bus as they load the top with our luggage. We wait long past the time of planned departure as Africa time is definitely not the same as Canada time. Finally we are off

We snake through the streets of Moshi staring out the windows of our khaki clad cocoon gawking at such a different way of life in a country half a world away from what is known and comfortable

Our guide, Brighton gives us a pep talk to motivate and is more than successful in allaying our fears. He speaks of the summit as a piece of chocolate and that the pain we would endure is temporary but the success would be with us the rest of our days

We stop to use a washroom and are surprised to see a squat toilet. I use it but cannot help but think that there is not enough hand sanitizer in the world to make it right

A few minutes drive later we arrive at Nalemuru gate and our last chance at a porcelain toilet. I use it twice and relish washing my hands with running water. We are given our first box lunch of chicken, hamburger with egg on a bun, French fries, muffin, and banana–so tasty. It seems as though we are on a newborn schedule of eating every few hours. I wonder if it’s possible to gain weight hiking Kilimanjaro? Something I had not previously considered

Brighton and Michael introduce us to the other guides, such beautiful smiles. We watch the Porters organize our gear. There is a scale but I never see it used

Our group takes pictures of each other, the signage at the start of the trail and we pose for a group shot.

Finally we are off. The Guides tell us Pole Pole (slowly ) as we begin our ascent up this great mountain. We go slow to allow a chance to acclimatize. The first 20 minutes is difficult as we climb up with little flat land. We take many breaks as we become accustomed. Soon we find our pace and it becomes easy. The Porters whiz by at break neck speed carrying our bags, tents, toilets, fresh eggs, bread, their own packs and any number of items we would need on the mountain. The majority they carry on their head. I’m envious of their perfect posture and instinctively I straighten.
We are in awe as we carry only a daypack with some water and a few personal items

We hike through potato fields and gradually enter a jungle type environment complete with very large monkeys with tails like skunks. After four hours we arrive at our first camp, Simba camp. We register find our belongings, claim a tent and settle in while we await tea, popcorn and water for washing. Very dignified and I think I could easily get used to this type of camping

Soon it’s time for dinner. We have voracious appetites quickly eating all the food offered. Tired, we prepare for bed and crawl into our bags for sleep that comes easyIMG_0433.JPG

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